How To Order Coffee In Colombia (Get Your First Tinto!)

Colombia produces and exports over 14 million bags of high-quality coffee every year, and it's regarded as some of the best in the world.[1]

However, I only fully appreciated Colombia's coffee culture once I visited a few years ago.

In Colombia, how, when, where, and what coffee they drink is very different, and there's a lot to learn if you're visiting.

In this guide, I’ll show you what to order in Colombia and tell you exactly how to do it so you can get your caffeine fix without any embarrassment.

How To Order Your First Coffee In Colombia (Don’t Be Shy!)

Coffee in Colombia is very different from other parts of the world. There are Colombian coffee shops, but they are few and far between, and they can be expensive.

Instead, Colombian coffee is typically sold on carts found on most streets.

These ‘Tinto carts’ usually only have a few options, but you still need to know how to order coffee from them.

Here are three drinks you need to try to truly delve into Colombiano coffee culture:

The Classic Tinto Coffee

Don't let the name fool you; Tinto is not red wine. It’s the classic coffee in Colombia. Tinto is a black coffee that usually comes very sweet (though not always).

The name ‘tinto’ means ink and comes from the fact that it's dark and thick.

Tinto may seem like something you would find in specialty coffee shops, but it’s a basic black coffee in Colombia.

How do you order it? Simply ask for "Un Tinto por favor" or say "¿me regala un tinto?" (Can I have a black coffee?)

A Tinto will usually come in one size (which can vary by region), so you don't need to ask for a large, small, tall, or grande version.

There is no such thing as a Tinto café con leche because it never comes with milk.

Tinto in Colombia is about the same size as an espresso and served in a small cup. It also comes with a separate glass of water.

Tinto coffee is usually sweetened with sugar or aguapanela (sugarcane juice), and some brewers will even add cinnamon or spices.

Person Making a Tinto Coffee Recipe At Home

Perico/Pintado

If you enjoy a latte or white coffee, you will enjoy a perico/pintado. Perico is a tinto (black coffee) with half the coffee replaced by warm milk (or steamed milk in some coffee shops).

Perico is basically the Colombian version of café con leche or latte. It's not as popular as a Tinto, but you can still order this milky coffee in any coffee shop or at the stand.

How do you order a milk coffee? Just ask for "Un Perico por favor" or say "Me puede dar un café?" (Could you give me a coffee with milk?)

You can also play around with the coffee-to-milk ratio.

If you want a lot of milk with just a little coffee, ask for a perico claro, and if you want a lot of coffee with just a little milk, ask for a perico oscuro.

Need a dairy-free option? Colombian café bars will have some milk varieties. Just ask your barista for one of the following:

  • Leche de almendras - almond milk
  • Leche de soya - soy milk
  • Leche deslactosade - lactose free milk

Like Tinto, Perico comes in tiny cups, so it's a lot shorter than your standard latte.

Ordering A Perico Coffee in Colombia

El Carajillo

If you want a caffeine fix and a winter warmer in one, you need an El Carajillo.

This drink is essentially a tinto with rum or aguardiente (a spirit derived from cane sugar with the taste of anise).[2]

It’s similar to an Irish coffee and perfect for those who like to drink coffee with alcohol.

The name El Carajillo comes from the Spanish word coraje, meaning courage. This dates back to the invention of the drink during the war when it was given to soldiers as liquid courage.

How do you order an alcoholic coffee drink? Just ask for “El Carajillo por favor” or “Quiero un Carajillo” (I want an alcoholic coffee) 

Not every coffee shop, stall, or market will serve this delicious cup of alcoholic coffee, but most will. It’s also a popular iced coffee drink, and on a hot day, you can ask for a Carajillo con hielo.

El Carajillo Colombian Coffee drink sitting on a table

What Not To Do When Ordering Coffee at a Colombian Café

Before you ask: ‘How do you order coffee in Spanish?’ you should consider the etiquette. Here are some rules that you should follow to avoid embarrassment:

  • Don’t order a tinto coffee with milk. It’s just not right, and if they hear you ask for a Tinto with milk, you’ll get a weird look. If you want a white coffee, either order a café or a perico.
  • Don't ask for creamer when you order a coffee. It's not used in Spanish or Colombian culture, and you won't see it on the table. Instead, ask for leche (milk).
  • Don’t forget the food! Colombian Spanish coffee is amazing with pan or arepa (bread), tortas (cake), and sweet treats.[3] Everywhere you go you’ll hear “algo para acompañar” (something to go with it?), and I recommend having something with your glass of Tinto.

What’s Typically On The Menu at a Colombian Café?

Colombia may not have as many coffee shops, but coffee is part of their cultural experience and lifestyle.

You can get a cup of coffee from the stalls on street corners, but in some areas, there will be coffee shops where you can order coffee in different styles.

Here’s what you should expect to see on the menu in an actual Colombian coffee shop:

Traditional Colombian Coffee

Western coffee culture is based around an espresso shot, whereas Colombian coffee lovers enjoy drinks based on Tinto coffee.

This good coffee is made from high-quality local coffee beans grown at high altitudes.[4] It's the base for many local drinks:

  • Tinto - black coffee: It’s typically served black but sometimes contains cane sugar or brown sugar. It’s in a small cup and never contains milk. This is the perfect morning coffee.
  • Perico - milky coffee: A black coffee with milk. You can play around with the milk and hot water ratio to change the flavor and ask for a cup of coffee with other types of milk.
  • Carajillo - alcoholic coffee: A black coffee with rum or aguardiente. I love drinking these with friends, but I wouldn’t recommend them as a morning drink.
  • Cafe con hielo - iced coffee: If you’re on a trip to Colombia, you might find it too hot for a regular coffee during your visit. Request an iced version to get all the flavors and caffeine while cooling down.
  • Cafe filtrado - filtered coffee: If you order a coffee filtrado in Colombia, you’ll get something different in every coffee shop. Some use Chemex, others French press, while some baristas also use Aeropress to make instant coffee. The quality beans from the region mean that every cup tastes amazing.
  • Descafeinado - decaffeinated: Most cafes and restaurants serve cups of decaf coffee for anyone who wants to enjoy the coffee taste without the caffeine. Your barista should be able to explain the options.
  • Aromatic - herbal tea: Technically, this isn’t a coffee, but it is still one of the most common orders by the locals. It’s sold by the cup in cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants and makes a good alternative for friends who don’t like coffee.
Colombian Juan Valdez Cafe Shop Interior

Espresso-Based Drinks

Colombian coffee culture doesn't center around espresso, but Colombian coffee beans make some of the best espresso coffee in the world.

Here are the espresso drinks you'll see on the menu:

  • Espresso: Most Colombians would order a Tinto rather than an espresso shot, but you can still get them across the country. Your barista should understand if you ask for an espresso, so don't worry about the Spanish.
  • Americano: This is just an espresso topped off with more water. Again, most servers will understand the word Americano, so don't worry about the Spanish. You can also ask for milk (leche) and sugar (azúcar).
  • Cafe con leche - a latte coffee: This coffee with milk is thicker and creamier than a perico because it has less coffee and more milk, with a tiny bit of foam on top. Some coffee shops may not know the difference between a cafe con leche and a perico, so you might have to try and explain that it should be made with espresso.
  • Cappuccino - capuchino: A cappuccino is generally made with ⅓ espresso, ⅓ milk, and ⅓ milk foam - though the ratio can be altered depending on your location. You can order a cappuccino in some coffee shops in Colombia, but not everywhere.
  • Mocha - moca: A mocha is a nice cup of coffee halfway between a latte and a hot chocolate. The extra steamed milk in a latte is replaced with chocolate syrup, and it's usually topped with whipped cream. It's less common to see a Mocha on a Spanish or Colombian menu, which is a shame because the high-quality Colombian coffee beans work perfectly with sweet chocolate notes.

Related Questions About Ordering Coffee In Colombia

What is a Colombian coffee shot called?

In Colombia, a small mug of black coffee is called a Tinto. However, you can still order an espresso shot in some coffee shops.

What is a Colombian Carajillo?

A Carajillo is a hot coffee Tinto made with brandy, rum, or aguardiente. This alcoholic coffee was originally Spanish but is now commonly drunk in Colombia and South America.

What is a Colombian latte?

A Colombian latte is a Cafe Perico, though some coffee shops will still offer you a classic espresso-based latte.


Summary: Order Your First Colombian Tinto!

Knowing how to order coffee in Colombia is more complex than learning the Spanish words.

You need to understand the coffee culture, where and what to buy, and how to immerse yourself in the local culture during your trip.

Cafe Colombiano centers around their signature coffee drink - the Tinto.

I recommend you start there and then try the rest of the high-quality traditional Colombian coffees to see which you enjoy the most.

References:

1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/801437/coffee-production-colombia/
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aguardiente
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arepa
4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29433216/

Karmy Widjaja

Author

Karmy Widjaja
Karmy Widjaja, holding a degree in Hospitality Administration, combines her academic background with a profound passion for the world of coffee. Her work is enriched with a wealth of insights, not only about the art of coffee making but also about the broader aspects of the coffee industry. Her quest for coffee perfection is a central theme in her engaging articles, as she continues to explore the vibrant coffee scene in Perth. And when it's time for a coffee break? Karmy's all about a laid-back flat white with almond milk – it's her go-to for a tasty coffee kick.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... flat white with almond milk.

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